SI Vault
William Nack
August 23, 1993
Former heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano was a tough-fisted brawler in the ring and a tightfisted mystery out of it
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August 23, 1993

The Rock

Former heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano was a tough-fisted brawler in the ring and a tightfisted mystery out of it

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On one of his occasional sojourns to the family home in Fort Lauderdale, he did a commercial for a car dealership and for his fee asked for a gold Firebird 400. He gave it to Mary Anne so she could pick him up at the airport. She remembers a comic interlude of her youth when a motorcycle cop pulled her over one day and discovered she not only did not have a driver's license but also was only 13. She told the cop who her father was and where she lived. The cop roared off to fetch Rocky. "I waited until they came roaring back," Mary Anne says. "My father in his Bermuda shorts, no shirt, bare feet, baseball cap, black hair blowing, with his arms around the cop, holding on. The cop asked my father for his autograph and drove off."

The cop no doubt left thinking he had saved Fort Lauderdale from this adolescent menace. "The world's worst driver drove me home," she says. "My dad did not even have a license."

So he had all his chauffeurs in place. He had rooms and places to stay all across America—at Ed Napoli's in Los Angeles, at Lindy Ciardelli's in Santa Clara, Calif., at Ben Danzi's 12-room apartment in New York, at Bernie Castro's estates on Long Island and in Florida, at Santarelli's in Chicago, at any hotel he chose in Las Vegas and at scores of homes all over Providence and Brockton, Buffalo and Boston. Santarelli recalls one night in Las Vegas when they were watching Jimmy Durante on stage and Durante announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, in our audience tonight we have the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world—and America's guest—Rocky Marciano." Touchy on the nerve of his parsimony, the Rock got all indignant. "Can you imagine this guy?" he said to Santarelli. "He ties a rope around his suitcase so his clothes don't fall out, and he says that about me?"

But that was what he was, America's guest. In all the years, going back to the championship days, there was never a single reported sighting of Marciano picking up a check. One evening, at a table of 12 in a Chicago restaurant, the waitress passed by the seat of businessman Andy Granatelli, the manufacturer of STP motor oil additive, and unknowingly gave the check to the Rock. In a hot panic he tossed it over his shoulder, onto the floor, and demanded of Santarelli, "How could she bring me the check with Andy Granatelli sitting here? Who owns this place? He's trying to be a smart guy." Marciano never ate there again. He knew all the restaurants where he did not have to pay—dozens of restaurateurs sought him out to decorate their tables—and when he was dining with any of his innumerable fat-cat associates, which was quite often, his immediate entourage of traveling friends was under orders never to buy as much as a round of drinks. Just about every such friend suffered Marciano's rebuke for offering to pay for something.

One night, after watching Castro pick up the umpteenth straight dinner check at an expensive New York restaurant, Saccone asked for the tab. Marciano grabbed him and took him aside. "Don't ever, ever do that!" Marciano scolded. "When you're with me, you don't pay a nickel. When you're with me, and you're my friend, you don't touch anything: never, never, never." Saccone protested that he felt uncomfortable freeloading all the time. "I'm capable of paying my own way," he said.

"Doncha understand?" said Marciano. "These people wanna be around me. Let them pick up the tab. They enjoy it. They wanna do it."

The freebies, as Marciano saw it, were among the benefits a man received for being part of the entourage, for being there when Rocky needed him. In all the hours in all the years he worked for Marciano, Saccone never dared send him a bill, never received a dollar for his services. The adventures were the payment, and the bonus was all the business that Marciano nudged his way. "He introduced me to people who were very substantial in my getting work," Saccone says. So it was for all the professionals, the lawyers and bookkeepers alike, who served Marciano's needs.

"Rocky was a door-opener, the greatest door-opener in the world," says Santarelli. "I'm an Italian guy from the old neighborhood in Chicago. I'd go to parties with Rocky and meet nice people, business people. 'How you doin', Mr. Santarelli?' Business people would contact me to get ahold of him. Many people called me: 'Do me a favor. Set up Rocky for me.' Rocky was a great guy, everybody loved him—if a favor was needed, Rocky would be there—but he was being used all the time. In every walk of life, every friend. Everybody used him. Even the priests used him, restaurant owners used him, women used him, movie stars used him, mob guys used him...."

Knowing this, of course, Marciano refused to go anywhere for free, and the only exception involved the occasional favor for a friend, as when he showed up one day in Michigan to referee some fights, at no charge, for Goody Petronelli, when Goody was running a boxing program in the U.S. Navy.

"You had to pay him to show up for lights." says Santarelli. "He got $250 just to step in the ring to be introduced as the former heavyweight champion. If you wanted Rocky, you had to pay for it. In cash."

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